skeleton in the cupboard

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a 1964 play written by Paul Zindel, a playwright and science teacher. Zindel received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. The play's world premiere was staged in 1964 at the Alley Theatre in Houston, after which it premiered in New York City Off Broadway. It was adapted for film in 1972, directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward, daughter Elinor (stage name Nell Potts), and Roberta Wallach, daughter of Eli Wallach.


The play revolves around the dysfunctional family consisting of single mother Beatrice and her two daughters, Ruth and Tillie, who cope with their abysmal status in life. The play is a lyrical drama, reminiscent of Tennessee Williams' style.


Matilda "Tillie" Hunsdorfer prepares her experiment for the science fair, but is constantly thwarted by her mother Beatrice, who is self-centered and abusive, and by her sister Ruth, who submits to her mother's will. Over the course of the play, Beatrice constantly stamps out any opportunities Tillie has of succeeding, due to her own lack of success in life. As the play progresses, the paths of the three characters diverge: Tillie wins the science fair through perseverance; Ruth discovers her individuality by finally standing up to Beatrice; and Beatrice—driven to the edge of sanity by her deep-seated enmity towards everyone—kills Tillie's pet rabbit Peter, and ends up wallowing in her own perceived insignificance. Despite this, Tillie secretly continues to believe that everyone is valuable.


This play features a small array of main characters with varying personalities. These variations and the ensuing actions of the characters induce conflicts with one another, allowing the characters to develop thoroughly, effectively making their development a driving force in the plot of the play. Matilda "Tillie" Hunsdorfer: The main protagonist of the play. A tomboyish character, she copes with her life by immersing herself in science, hoping to reach a philosophical epiphany. Her untiring quest for her individuality stands in open defiance of her mother's wish for total control over the family; because of this, she receives the brunt of the abuse. Tillie also owns a rabbit named Peter given to her by Mr.Goodman her science teacher. Ruth Hunsdorfer: Tillie's older sister. A confused adolescent, she looks to others for advice, but often gains this insight from Beatrice. Although abused as well, she often bends to her mother's will, putting her in her favor and sheltering her from the full extent of her abuse. She also takes a liking to Tillie's pet rabbit, to the point where she threatened to kill her mother if she harms him. There is evidence in the story suggesting that Ruth may have epilepsy. Beatrice Hunsdorfer: Tillie's and Ruth's mother. A single mother whose life has gone awry, she copes with it through self-loathing, cynicism, and drug abuse, and by verbally (and at times physically) abusing her two daughters. As the play's main antagonist, Beatrice is mainly narcissistic, domineering, and lethally short-tempered, which is only worsened by the drugs. However, her plight is sympathetic as her past reveals a life spiraling steadily downward from serendipitous circumstances, leading her to self-destruction. Mr. Goodman: Tillie's science teacher. He serves as a mentor to Tillie. Mr. Goodman is mentioned on many occasions, but never seen, although the dialogue often implies that he is the only positive role model in Tillie's life. Nanny: A boarder in the Hunsdorfer household. Silent throughout, she doesn't contribute much beyond being yet another burden to the already stressed-out Beatrice. Mr Frank: Beatrice's Father. A deceased vegetable vendor. After his wife (Beatrice's mother) died, he raised Beatrice on his own. Although he had a lowly status, Beatrice holds him in high regard—"He makes up for all the men in the world"—and smiles imagining her daughters meeting him. Janice Vickery: Tillie's rival at the science fair. Her experiment involved boiling the skin off a dead cat so she may use its skeleton. She plans to use a dog in her next science fair project.


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